Mojo A Go-Go
M onkey finger... walrus gumboot... spinal cracker... Bassist Clifton Weaver is rattling off nonsensical but cool-sounding word combos from the Beatles Come Together, all of which were considered when his band, the Mojo Filters, were picking a name. As far as we know, the first three are still available (Spinal Cracker would be good for a speed metal group, dontcha think?) but for Weaver and the school chums he formed the band with in 1998, there was never really a question. After all, mojo evokes magic and magnetism; it also happens to be the name of Englands reigning music magazine, a pub that, like the band, has as much enthusiasm for musics past as its present.
The Mojo Filters music is hip-shaking and all-out go-go groovy, in a Billy-Preston-jamming-with-the-Stones kinda way. Like John Lennons quirky phraseology in Come Together, their lyrics are rarely literal and, really, who cares what theyre saying when the rhythms are so infectious? The bands new eponymous self-release conjures The MC5 and Motown, and their videos have an old-fashioned, multiframed/hued 60s rock-doc feel. But dont call them revivalists!
I never saw us as being retro, says Weaver matter-of-factly. If it seems like we kind of idealize music of the past, I think its more because of a certain quality it has, not so much for nostalgia or trying to recreate a lost time period.
Weaver and lead singer George Karambelas are taking a break from rehearsing, chatting outside a busy practice space on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood; cars zoom past as long-haired dudes with that tired-from-the-day-job look roll their gear around us. The Filters who mostly grew up in L.A. suburbs and now live in La Mirada do the 9-5 thing just like everyone else, and are more realistic than idealistic about being in an unsigned band. Still, somehow, they remain high-spirited and totally unjaded.
Onstage and off, they come off like super-nice boys next door no rock-star arrogance or enigmatic pretense. But what they lack in bad-boy swagger they make up for in charm and a passion for making music, which has always been an escape from the daily grind. We really had no direction in the beginning, says Karambelas. The band was just a way to beat the boredom of being stuck in Orange County.
That changed around 1999, after the guys graduated from college and became part of the mod/Britpop scene shimmying around L.A. at gatherings like Solid, Café Bleu and Shout.
I was going out to those clubs and just absorbing more of the music and meeting people who were into what Im into, remembers Weaver. Stuff like Curtis Mayfield, the Yardbirds and the Animals, and newer Britpop.
Weaver and Karambelas along with his brother Jimmy Karambelas on guitar, organist Justin Molnar and drummer Anish Chandra soon became regulars on the stage as well as the dance floor at the Britpop boîtes, playing regular gigs for the scooter-riding, go-go-booting, spiffed-up suit-and-tie crowd.
DJ/promoter Tamar Michelle also started booking them at her Thursday-night love-in at the Three Clubs, which melded both 60s and 70s sensibilities with a modern vibe. It soon became apparent their R&B-based grinds had wider appeal. They have a certain style that I had never seen in any other soul band and still havent, says Michelle. A lot of soul bands try to get down in the gutter, and thats great, but the Mojos can really play. Theyre truly solid and authentic.
Snapping with rubber-band riffage and hooky choruses, tunes such as Here to Denmark and I Cant Win are the kind of joyous soul-shakers you just dont hear anywhere but classic-rock radio anymore. Karambelas sings the way he rattles his rusty tambourine excited, but never overexerted.
These days the band can and do play everywhere, from a supporting gig for Love (their idols) in San Juan Capistrano to rocking out with kiddie-punk combos at the recent Fuck Yeah Fest at the Echo. But they do have their limits. We tend to stay away from the Strip, states Karambelas. Thats not really our scene.
Too much jock rock over there, adds Weaver.
Jock rock is one thing, but dont even get em started on the arty, 80s-tainted schlock rockers currently the rage with the MySpace generation.
A lot of bands right now seem to be chasing trends because they think thats the way to make it. Theres the whole irony thing thats really big right now. Theyre playing crap music because they think its, like, funny or kitschy or whatever. And were not about that. Even if a song does contain humor, the song itself is not a joke. What we do is not a joke. Its honest.
Excuse the retro song reference, but Im a believer.
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